Veggie Fest celebrates a lifestyle

Pass the peas, corn, carrots, okra and edamame, and don’t forget the quinoa.

Instruction in how to combine vegetables, legumes and grains to create tasty, healthy dishes as alternatives to meat-laden meals is one of the reasons to check out Veggie Fest this weekend on the Benedictine University campus in Lisle.

The free event, presented by the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center of Naperville, also will offer an array of vegetarian food booths, music, games and keynote speakers, event coordinator Jonathan Kruger said.

Cooking demonstrations, presented by vegan and vegetarian chefs and restaurateurs, will include how to cook with tofu, how to make avocado toast, how to concoct soups, salads and sandwiches, and even how to make healthy caramel corn.

“It really is kind of exciting,” Kruger said. “Whole Foods is going to be very active. They’re doing two food demonstrations.”

Whole Foods chef Viviana Proano will show visitors how to make raw berry crisp and raw veggie pasta with tomatoes and herbs at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The fest location this year is moving back to Benedictine’s campus while construction continues on the Science of Spirituality’s new center on Naperville Road in Naperville, just north of Warrenville Road.

Kruger said the university grounds lend themselves well to a festival that last year drew about 40,000 visitors.

“It’s all on the grass and there’s lots of parking,” he said.

Kruger said committed vegetarians and vegans will find a wide selection of prepared dishes available for purchase.

“The prices are very reasonable. The average price of a meal is five dollars,” he said.

The food selection is presented with the help of more than 1,000 volunteers who travel to Lisle from all over the world, Kruger said.

“We prepare and cook all the food,” he said. “We have 26 food booths in an international food court.”

Non-vegetarians are encouraged to visit the festival and try new culinary options, he said.

“Veggie Fest wasn’t created (just) for vegetarians. It was created so people can learn about good food and healthy living,” he said. “We have a learn-to-be-a-vegetarian tent.”

Visitors also can learn about health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

“We have a really good lineup of guest speakers this year,” Kruger said.

Back for a third time, Dr. Terry Mason, COO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, will talk about the relationship between diet and cancer at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“Dr. Kim Williams, chief cardiologist at Rush Medical Center, is back again,” he said.

Williams will address lifestyle risk factors for cardiovascular disease at 2 p.m. Saturday, following a 1 p.m. Saturday talk by Saraswati Sukumar, a cancer researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Rush personnel will be on hand to conduct health screenings.

This year’s Veggie Fest will see the introduction of a yoga tent.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to tap into the yoga community,” Kruger said.

The festival also will include a kids’ parade at 5:30 p.m. both days, face painting, a meditation class, an art show and live music.

Kruger said visitors are encouraged to take the “Vegetarian Challenge,” wherein participants pledge to eat a vegetarian diet for two weeks to see if it makes a difference. In the past few years, he said, about 15,000 people have signed up.

“Some people become vegetarians, some people don’t,” he said. “We believe everyone should decide for themselves what’s right.”

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